Movie review: Outside look inside relationship

Movie review: Outside look inside relationship
Cinema still: The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Them starring James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain


123 minutes / Opens tomorrow / ***

The story: For married couple Conor (James McAvoy) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain), everything seems to be going well. Suddenly, she withdraws from him and from much of her former life. Her father Julian (William Hurt) tries to give what comfort he can, but she prefers to busy herself with school and other activities while nursing a mysterious inner wound.

Falling somewhere between "talky couple movie" and "family drama", this take on a man and woman hitting a relationship roadblock steers clear of typical script constructs, instead relying on a low-key, somewhat dour realism.

This is very much an auteur piece, by first-time feature film-maker Ned Benson.

Film-makers are fond of using fancy time-shifting edits to create puzzle movies out of couple dissolution stories (Blue Valentine, 2010; Irreversible, 2002).

Put Benson in the same club.

The "them" in the title refers to how this work is an end-cap for two previous films, Him and Her, which were not shown here and also screened only selectively in American arthouses and festivals.

The two earlier films purportedly looked at the same incidents, but through the eyes of the male and female, with this work being the point of view of a third party. Benson is attempting a triptych, a hall-of-mirrors experiment. Them, however, works quite well on its own.

The Eleanor Rigby in the title is the name of Chastain's character, so named by dad Julian (Hurt) because of his love of The Beatles.

For what it is - part experiment in subjective narrative and part vanity project for Chastain (she is one of its executive producers) - this is a fairly interesting work, mostly due to fine performances from the A-listers here, namely Chastain and McAvoy, with Hurt and Viola Davis (as family friend and a lecturer) doing very well in supporting parts.

Comedy actor Bill Hader as Stuart, Conor's co-worker, shows he can rein in the goofy when he needs to.

New York's cityscape is lovingly presented. Chinatown and other oft-seen movie backdrops are ignored for the lesser-seen brownstone and upper- middle class parts of Manhattan.

For much of the story, Eleanor's unspecified inner pain drives the story and the suspense over what it is gives some momentum to the story.

The twice-Oscar-nominated Chastain (for Zero Dark Thirty, 2012; and The Help, 2011) has a face that conveys intelligent melancholy well.

After the veil is lifted, not everyone will think that her character's drastic actions are justified and the viewer's debate over whether she should just get over herself is perhaps the point of this piece.

This article was first published on December 31, 2014.
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